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Nutrient cycling; plant-soil interactions; climate change; heavy metals; forensic microbial ecology

Dr Catriona Macdonald joined the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment in November 2010 investigating the impacts of environmental change on nutrient cycling and resource allocation within terrestrial environments. Her research interests are geared towards  understanding how environmental change impacts nutrient cycling and ecosystem functioning and how this affects productivity and sustainability of soils.

Working across natural, agricultural and managed ecosystems, she aims to improve understanding of how factors such as climate change and land management impact microbial-mediated nutrient transformations, and how this feeds back to ecosystem functioning.

To achieve this Catriona uses field-based and controlled environment studies to determine rates of nutrient (C, N and P) transformations, quantify nutrient resource allocation in above- and below-ground pools, as well as investigating the function and diversity of key microbial drivers in C N and P cycles using a range of in-situ approaches (soil CO2 flux, decomposition, net mineralisation), laboratory assays (MicroResp, enzyme activities, potential mineralisation, degradation rates) and molecular approaches (community profiling and sequencing analysis).

Her research experience includes determining the effects of elevated CO2, elevated temperature, drought and atmospheric N deposition, on nutrient cycling and on the functioning and structure and of soil microbial communities, as well as assessing the sustainability of long-term metal contaminated sludge addition in agricultural systems.

Catriona also maintains an interest in the application of microbial profiling techniques for forensic use in both environmental and human biomes.

Awards and Recognition

  • Best oral presentation at the New Zealand Soil Science Society meeting (Rotorua 2006)
  • Study Award (NZ$8000, Institute of Environmental Science and Research) awarded to travel overseas to learn new techniques, foster links and knowledge transfer (February 2006)
  • Profit Share Travel Grant awarded (NZ$2000, Institute of Environmental Science and Research) to attend the 18th International Symposium on the Forensic Sciences: Classroom to Courtroom and the 1st International Workshop on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics. April 2006 Fremantle, Australia


Healthy bee populations for sustainable pollination in horticulture
Partner/Funding Body: Horticulture Innovation Australia and Bayer Australia Ltd
Period: 2016-2021

Gaseous nitrogen movement in QLD sugarcane soils and plant nitrogen use: role of fertilizer and plant roots.
Partner/Funding Body: Wilmar Sugar Pty Ltd
Period: 2017-2018

Soil transplants – an intervention to restore microbial function in herbicide impacted agricultural soils.
Partner/Funding Body: Western Sydney University Strategic Initiative – Women’s Research Fellowship
Period: 2017.

Sustainable pasture systems under climate extremes
Partner/Funding Body: Meat and Livestock Australia and Dairy Australia
Period: 2016-2021

A novel framework to identify, predict and improve efficiency of bioremediation technology
Partner/Funding Body: Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE)
Period: 2014-2019

Accounting for Biodiversity and Carbon in golf courses within the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment area (ABC-golf)
Co-researchers: Sally Power, Brajesh Singh and James Cook
Partner/Funding Body: Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority Period: 2013-2015

Beyond human DNA analysis – Genetic comparison of bacteria from human bite marks and saliva.
Co-researchers: Dr J Horswell (Institute of Environmental Science and Research, NZ), Dr G Thompkins, (Otago University, NZ), Dr S Cordiner (Institute of Environmental Science and Research, NZ), Professor J Kieser , (Otago University, NZ).
Partner/Funding Body: NZ Police Research Award. Period: 2006-2007

Bacterial fingerprints for identification of vaginal fluid for forensic purposes.
Co-researchers: Dr J Horswell, Dr S Cordiner, Dr J Vintiner (Institute of Environmental Science and Research, NZ).
Partner/Funding Body: NZ Police Research Award.
Period: 2006-2007


Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Rabbi SMF, Warren CR, Macdonald C, Trethowan RM, Young IM, (2022) ‘Soil-root interaction in the rhizosheath regulates the water uptake of wheat’, Rhizosphere, vol.21, Article no.100462

Stuart EK, Castañeda-Gómez L, Macdonald CA, Wong-Bajracharya J, Anderson IC, Carrillo Y, Plett JM, Plett KL, (2022) ‘Species-level identity of Pisolithus influences soil phosphorus availability for host plants and is moderated by nitrogen status, but not CO2‘, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.165, Article no.108520

Kostin JE, Cesarz S, Lochner A, Schaedler M, Macdonald CA, Eisenhauer N, (2021) ‘Land-use drives the temporal stability and magnitude of soil microbial functions and modulates climate effects’, Ecological Applications, Article no.e02325

Macdonald CA, Anderson IC, Khachane A, Singh BP, Barton CVM, Duursma RA, Ellsworth DS, Singh BK, (2021) ‘Plant productivity is a key driver of soil respiration response to climate change in a nutrient-limited soil’, Basic and Applied Ecology, vol.50, pp 155-168

Renchon AA, Drake JE, Macdonald CA, Sihi D, Hinko-Najera N, Tjoelker MG, Arndt SK, Noh NJ, Davidson E, Pendall E, (2021) ‘Concurrent Measurements of Soil and Ecosystem Respiration in a Mature Eucalypt Woodland: Advantages, Lessons, and Questions’, Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, vol.126, no.3, Article no.e2020JG006221

Zhang H, Powell JR, Plett JM, Churchill AC, Power SA, Macdonald CA, Jacob V, Kim GW, Pendall E, Tissue D, Catunda KM, Igwenagu C, Carrillo Y, Moore BD, Anderson IC, (2021) ‘Climate warming negates arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal reductions in soil phosphorus leaching with tall fescue but not lucerne’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.152, Article no.108075

Zhang H, Powell JR, Power SA, Churchill AC, Plett JM, Macdonald CA, Jacob V, Kim GW, Pendall E, Tissue DT, Catunda KLM, Igwenagu C, Carrillo Y, Moore BD, Anderson IC, (2021) ‘Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal-mediated reductions in N2O emissions were not impacted by experimental warming for two common pasture species’, Pedobiologia, vol.s 87-88, Article no.150744

Andresen LC, Carrillo Y, Macdonald CA, Castaneda-Gomez L, Bode S, Rutting T, (2020) ‘Nitrogen dynamics after two years of elevated CO(2) in phosphorus limited Eucalyptus woodland’, Biogeochemistry, vol.150, no.3, pp 297-312

Bond-Lamberty B, Christianson DS, Malhotra A, Pennington SC, Sihi D, AghaKouchak A, Anjileli H, Arain MA, Armesto JJ, Ashraf S, Ataka M, Baldocchi D, Black TA, Buchmann N, Carbone MS, Chang S-C, Crill P, Curtis PS, Davidson EA, Desai AR, Drake JE, El‐Madany TS, Gavazzi M, Görres C-M, Gough CM, Goulden M, Gregg J, del Arroyo OG, He J-S, Hirano T,Hopple A, Hughes H, Järveoja J, Jassal R, Jian J, Kan H, Kaye J, Kominami Y, Liang N, Lipson D, Macdonald CA, Maseyk K, Mathes K, Mauritz M, Mayes MA, McNulty S, Miao G, Migliavacca M, Miller S, Miniat CF, Nietz JG, Nilsson MB, Noormets A, Norouzi H, O’Connell CS, Osborne B, Oyonarte C, Pang Z, Peichl M, Pendall E, Perez‐Quezada JF, Phillips CL, Phillips RP, Raich JW, Renchon AA, Ruehr NK, Sánchez‐Cañete EP, Saunders M, Savage KE, Schrumpf M, Scott RL, Seibt U, Silver WL, Sun W, Szutu D, Takagi K, Takagi M, Teramoto M, Tjoelker MG, Trumbore S, Ueyama M, Vargas R, Varner RK, Verfaillie J, Vogel C, Wang J, Winston G, Wood TE, Juying Wu J, Wutzler T, Zeng J, Zha T, Zhang Q, Zou J, (2020) ‘COSORE: A community database for continuous soil respiration and other soil‐atmosphere greenhouse gas flux data’, Global Change Biology, vol.26, no.12, pp 7268-7283

Jiang M, Medlyn BE, Drake JE, Duursma RA, Anderson IC, Barton CVM, Boer MM, Carrillo Y, Castaneda-Gomez L, Collins L, Crous KY, De Kauwe MG, dos Santos BM, Emmerson KM, Facey SL, Gherlenda AN, Gimeno TE, Hasegawa S, Johnson SN, Kannaste A, Macdonald CA, Mahmud K, Moore BD, Nazaries L, Neilson EHJ, Nielsen UN, Niinemets U, Noh NJ, Ochoa-Hueso R, Pathare VS, Pendall E, Pihlblad J, Pineiro J, Powell JR, Power SA, Reich PB, Renchon AA, Riegler M, Rinnan R, Rymer PD, Salomon RL, Singh BK, Smith B, Tjoelker MG, Walker JKM, Wujeska-Klause A, Yang JY, Zaehle S, Ellsworth DS, (2020) ‘The fate of carbon in a mature forest under carbon dioxide enrichment’, Nature, vol.580, no.7802, pp 227-231

Ross GM, Horn S, Macdonald CA, Powell JR, Reynolds JK, Ryan MM, Cook JM, Nielsen UN, (2020) ‘Metabarcoding mites: Three years of elevated CO2 has no effect on oribatid assemblages in a Eucalyptus woodland’, Pedobiologia, vol.81-82, Article no.150667

Singh BK, Trivedi P, Egidi E, Macdonald CA, Delgado-Baquerizo M, (2020) ‘Crop microbiome and sustainable agriculture’, Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol.18, no.11, pp 601-602

Liu H, Macdonald CA, Cook J, Anderson IC, Singh BK, (2019) ‘An Ecological Loop: Host Microbiomes across Multitrophic Interactions’, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, vol.34, no.12, pp 1118-1130

Drake JE, Macdonald CA, Tjoelker MG, Reich PB, Singh BK, Anderson IC, Ellsworth DS, (2018) ‘Three years of soil respiration in a mature eucalypt woodland exposed to atmospheric CO2 enrichment’, Biogeochemistry, vol.139, no.1, pp 85-101

Nooten SS, Schultheiss P, Wright J, Macdonald C, Singh BK, Cook JM, Power SA, (2018) ‘What shapes plant and animal diversity on urban golf courses?’, Urban Ecosystems, vol.21, no.3, pp 565-576

Singh BK, Trivedi P, Singh S, Macdonald CA, Verma, JP (2018) ‘Emerging microbiome technologies for sustainable increase in farm productivity and environmental security’, Microbiology Australia, vol 40. no.1, pp 17-23

Eisenhauer N, Antunes PM, Bennett AE, Birkhofer K, Bissett A, Bowker MA, Caruso T, Chen B, Coleman DC, Boer WD, Ruiter PD, DeLuca TH, Frati F, Griffiths BS, Hart MM, Hättenschwiler S, Haimi J, Heethoff M, Kaneko N, Kelly LC, Leinaas HP, Lindo  Z, Macdonald C, Rillig MC, Ruess L, Scheu S, Schmidt O, Seastedt TR, Straalen NMV, Tiunov AV, Zimmer M, Powell JR,  (2017) ‘Priorities for research in soil ecology’, Pedobiologia, vol.63, pp 1-7

Ellsworth DS, Anderson IC, Crous KY, Cooke J, Drake JE, Gherlenda AN, Gimeno TE, Macdonald CA, Medlyn BE, Powell JR, Tjoelker MG, Reich PB, (2017) ‘Elevated CO2 does not increase eucalypt forest productivity on a low-phosphorus soil’, Nature Climate Change, vol.7, no.4, pp 279-282

Martins CSC, Nazaries L, Delgado-Baquerizo M, Macdonald CA, Anderson IC, Hobbie S, Venterea R, Reich PB, Singh BK, (2017) ‘Identifying environmental drivers of greenhouse gas emissions under warming and reduced rainfall in boreal-temperate forests’, Functional Ecology, vol.31, no.12, pp 2356-2368

Colombo F, Macdonald CA, Jeffries TC, Powell JR, Singh BK, (2016) ‘Impact of forest management practices on soil bacterial diversity and consequences for soil processes’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.94, pp 200-210

Drake JE, Macdonald CA, Tjoelker MG, Crous KY, Gimeno TE, Singh BK, Reich PB, Anderson IC, Ellsworth DS, (2016) ‘Short-term carbon cycling responses of a mature eucalypt woodland to gradual stepwise enrichment of atmospheric CO2 concentration’, Global Change Biology, vol.22, no.1, pp 380-390

Fry EL, Manning P, Macdonald C, Hasegawa S, De Palma A, Power SA, Singh BK, (2016) ‘Shifts in microbial communities do not explain the response of grassland ecosystem function to plant functional composition and rainfall change’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.92, pp 199-210

Hasegawa S, Macdonald CA, Power SA, (2016) ‘Elevated carbon dioxide increases soil nitrogen and phosphorus availability in a phosphorus-limited Eucalyptus woodland’, Global Change Biology, vol.22, no.4, pp 1628-1643

Hu H-W, Macdonald CA, Trivedi P, Anderson IC, Zheng Y, Holmes B, Bodrossy L, Wang J-T, He J-Z, Singh BK, (2016) ‘Effects of climate warming and elevated CO2 on autotrophic nitrification and nitrifiers in dryland ecosystems’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.92, pp 1-15

Martins CSC, Macdonald CA, Anderson IC, Singh BK, (2016) ‘Feedback responses of soil greenhouse gas emissions to climate change are modulated by soil characteristics in dryland ecosystems’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.100, pp 21-32

Medlyn BE, De Kauwe MG, Zaehle S, Walker AP, Duursma RA, Luus K, Mishurov M, Pak B, Smith B, Wang Y-P, Yang X, Crous KY, Drake JE, Gimeno TE, Macdonald CA, Norby RJ, Power SA, Tjoelker MG, Ellsworth DS, (2016) ‘Using models to guide field experiments: a priori predictions for the CO2 response of a nutrient- and water-limited native Eucalypt woodland’, Global Change Biology, vol.22, no.8, pp 2834-2851

Rabbi SMF, Daniel H, Lockwood PV, Macdonald C, Pereg L, Tighe M, Wilson BR, Young IM, (2016) ‘Physical soil architectural traits are functionally linked to carbon decomposition and bacterial diversity’, Scientific Reports, vol.6, Article no.33012

Hu H-W, Macdonald CA, Trivedi P, Holmes B, Bodrossy L, He J-Z, Singh BK, (2015) ‘Water addition regulates the metabolic activity of ammonia oxidizers responding to environmental perturbations in dry subhumid ecosystems’, Environmental Microbiology, vol.17, no.2, pp 444-461

Macdonald CA, Crawley MJ, Wright DJ, Kuczynski J, Robinson L, Knight R, Al-Soud WA, Sørensen SJ, Deng Y, Zhou J, Singh BK, (2015) ‘Identifying qualitative effects of different grazing types on below-ground communities and function in a long-term field experiment’, Environmental Microbiology, vol.17, no.3, pp 841-854

Martins CS, Nazaries L, Macdonald CA, Anderson IC, Singh BK, (2015) ‘Water availability and abundance of microbial groups are key determinants of greenhouse gas fluxes in a dryland forest ecosystem’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.86, pp 5-16

Singh BK, Quince C, Macdonald CA, Khachane A, Thomas N, Al-Soud WA, Sørensen SJ, He Z, White D, Sinclair A, Crooks B, Zhou J, Campbell CD, (2014) ‘Loss of microbial diversity in soils is coincident with reductions in some specialized functions’, Environmental Microbiology, vol.16, no.8, pp 2408-2420

Cowie AL, Lonergan VE, Rabbi SMF, Fornasier F, MacDonald C, Harden S, Kawasaki A, Singh BK, (2013) ‘Impact of carbon farming practices on soil carbon in northern New South Wales’, Soil Research, vol.51, no.s 7-8, pp 707-718

Macdonald CA, Singh BK, (2013) ‘Harnessing plant-microbe interactions for enhancing farm productivity’, Bioengineered, vol.5, no.1, pp 1-5

Hsu L, Power D, Upritchard J, Burton J, Friedlander R, Horswell J, Macdonald C, Kieser J, Tompkins G (2012) ‘Amplification of Oral Streptococcal DNA from Human Incisors and Bite Marks’, Current Microbiology, vol.65, pp 207-211

Macdonald CA, Anderson IC, Bardgett RD, Singh BK, (2011) ‘Role of nitrogen in carbon mitigation in forest ecosystems’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol.3, no.5, pp 303-310

Macdonald CA, Clark IM, Hirsch PR, Zhao FJ, McGrath SP, (2011) ‘Development of a Real-Time PCR Assay for Detection and Quantification of Rhizobium leguminosarum Bacteria and Discrimination between Different Biovars in Zinc-Contaminated Soil’, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, vol.77, no.13, pp 4626-4633

Macdonald CA, Clark IM, Zhao F-J, Hirsch PR, Singh BK, McGrath SP, (2011) ‘Long-term impacts of zinc and copper enriched sludge additions on bacterial, archaeal and fungal communities across arable and grassland soils’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.43, no.5, pp 932-941

Macdonald CA, Ang R, Cordiner SJ, Horswell J, (2011) ‘Discrimination of soils at regional and local levels using bacterial and fungal T-RFLP profiling’, Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol.56, no.1, pp 61-69

Singh BK, Macdonald CA, (2010) ‘Drug discovery from uncultivable microorganisms’, Drug Discovery Today, vol.15, pp 792-799

Macdonald CA, Yang X, Clark IM, Zhao FJ, Hirsch PR, McGrath SP, (2010) ‘Relative impact of soil, metal source and metal concentration on bacterial community structure and community tolerance’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.42, no.9, pp 1408-1417

Horswell J, Hewitt J, Van Schaik A, Croucher D, Speir T, Macdonald C, Susarla P, Bickers P, Burford P, Prosser J, (2010) ‘Mobility and survival of Salmonella typhimurium and human adenovirus from spiked sewage sludge applied to soil columns’, Journal of Applied Microbiology, vol.108, no.1, pp 104-114

Other Publications:

Macdonald, CA, Delgado-Baquerizo, M, Reay, DS, Hicks, LC, Singh, BK 2018. Soil Nutrients and Soil Carbon Storage: Modulators and Mechanisms. In Singh BK (ed) Soil Carbon Storage; Modulators, Mechanisms and Modelling. Academic Press, London UK. pp 167-205.

Macdonald, C.A., Singh, B.K. Chapter 4. Ecosystem Function and Services (Atmospheric Composition and Regulation). Orgiazzi, A., et al (Eds), 2016. Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas. European Commission Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. 176pp.

Macdonald, CA, Thomas N, Robinson L, Tate KR, Ross DJ, Dando J, Singh BK, (2009) ‘Physiological, biochemical and molecular responses of soil microbial community after afforestation of pastures with Pinus radiata’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.41, pp 1642-1651

Singh BK, Dawson L, Macdonald C, Grime S, (2009) ‘Impact of biotic and abiotic interaction on soil microbial communities and functions: A field study’, Applied Soil Ecology, vol.41, pp 239-248

Macdonald C, Campbell C, Bacon J, Singh BK, (2008) ‘Multiple profiling of soil microbial communities identifies potential genetic markers of metal-enriched sewage sludge’, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, vol.65, pp 555-564

Macdonald C, Singh BK, Campbell C, Horsewell J, Spier T, (2007) ‘Long-term exposure to Zn-spiked sewage sludge alters soil community structure’, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, vol.39, no.10, pp 2576-2586

Singh BK, Tate KR, Kapadia G, Hedley CB, Macdonald CA, Millard P, Murrell JC, (2007) ‘Effect of afforestation and reforestation of pastures on the activity and population dynamics of methanotrophic bacteria’, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, vol.73, pp 5153-5161

Conference proceedings and presentations

Macdonald C, Drake J, Anderson I, Singh B, (2013) ‘Impact of elevated carbon dioxide on soil respiration and microbial activity in a nutrient poor forest’, New Horizons on CO2 impacts, EcoTas13, 24th-29 November 2013, Auckland, New Zealand.

Macdonald C, Gimeno T, Powell J, Hasegawa S, Power S, Crous K, Ellsworth D, (2013) ‘Spatial variability in soil elemental pools and vegetation coverage at EucFACE’, EucFACE Symposium, 21st Nov 2013 UWS.

Macdonald C, Powell P, Singh B, Nielsen U, Hasegawa S, Nazaries L, Power S, Hortal S., Drigo B, Anderson I, (2013), ‘EucFACE from below’, Joint PIARN – UWS Hawkesbury Institute Workshop. The FACEs of Climate Change Adaptation in an Australian native ecosystem: ‘Forecasting’ the elevated CO2 response. 20th- 21st June 2012. Leura, Australia.

Macdonald C, Ellsworth D, Singh B, Anderson I, (2012) ‘Interactions between above and below ground ecosystems under eCO2 and eT’, Soil Science Australia Conference 2012, 2nd-7th December 2012. Hobart, Australia.

Macdonald CA, Clark IM, McGrath SP, Hirsch P, (2009) ‘Unravelling the soil microbial metagenome: assessing the effects of change on biodiversity and ecosystem function’, Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems Final Open Meeting 24-25th November 2009. Exeter. Poster presentation.

Macdonald C, Yang X, Clark I, Hirsch PR, McGrath SP, (2008) ‘Long-term impacts of metal-rich sludge additions on soil microbial communities – effects of metal source and soil type’, 12th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology (ISME12): Microbial Diversity – Sustaining the Blue Planet, Cairns, 17-22nd August 2008.

Macdonald C. Yang X, Clark I, Hirsch PR McGrath SP, (2008) ‘Long-term impacts of metal-rich sludge application on soil microbial communities’, 14th Meeting of the Molecular Microbial Ecology Group, University of Warwick, UK, 3rd-4th July 2008.  Oral Presentation.

Macdonald CA, Macdonald LM, Dawson L, Horswell J, (2007) ‘Utilising the soil organic component for forensic application’, 2nd Soil Forensic International Workshop. 30th Oct. to 2nd Nov 2007, Edinburgh, UK. Oral presentation.

Macdonald CA, Lorenz N, Peck JA, Van Schaik AP, Horswell J, McLaren R, Clucas L, Speir TW, (2007) ‘Long-term exposure to metal-spiked biosolids affects microbial community structure in forest and pasture soils’, Proceeding of the New Zealand Land Treatment Collective Annual Conference, Session 28: 14-16th March 2007, Rotorua, New Zealand. Oral presentation.

Macdonald CA, Singh BK, Peck JA, Van Schaik AP, Hunter LC, Speir TW, (2006) ‘The long-term effect of metal-enriched biosolid activity and community structure in pasture soils’, Soils and Society, New Zealand Soil Science Society Annual Conference. 27 – Rotorua, New Zealand. Oral presentation.

Macdonald CA, Speir TW, Horswell J, (2006) ‘Soil micro-organisms as indicators of soil quality’, Proceedings of the New Zealan Annual Conference 2006. Session 27: 14-17th March 2006. Nelson, New Zealand. Oral presentation.

Macdonald CA, Parkinson RA. Horswell J, Vintiner J, Cordiner S, (2006) ‘Application and Validation of Microbial Fingerprinting in International Symposium of the Australia and New Zealand Forensic Science Society. April 2006, Perth. Oral presentation.

Macdonald CA, Prosser JI, Leake JR, Read DJ (2003) ‘The long-term effect of atmospheric N-deposition on the structure of amm semi-natural grasslands’,  British Ecological Society, Soil Biodiversity and Function, University of Lancaster, 25-27th March 2003.